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Holocene Deposits of Saharan Rock Shelters: The Case of Takarkori and Other Sites from the Tadrart Acacus Mountains (Southwest Libya)

Abstract

The excavation at Takarkori rock shelter is part of a long-term study of Holocene cultural dynamics in southwest Libya begun in the early 1990s. With a rich Holocene occupation, the area is one of the key spots for reconstruction of human occupation of the last 10,000 years. In this region, similar to the case in the rest of the Sahara, most of the data come from surface investigations at open-air sites, while excavated caves and rock shelters provide just a few. Although less exposed than open-air sites, Holocene archaeological deposits in Saharan caves and rock shelters are characterized by a fairly dynamic nature. Loose sediments, coupled with variability of human occupations and magnitude of natural agents, determine multiple alterations to the archaeological deposits in sheltered sites. In this paper, we present the nature and meaning of the archaeological deposits at Takarkori rock shelter, where a relatively large area has been recently excavated, showing a stratigraphic sequence extending from c. 9,000 to 4,200 BP, unevenly represented by several occupation pulses. In order to sharpen understanding of the development of human occupation at this site, specific procedures for the study and recording of the archaeological deposit have been developed, along with a program of extensive radiocarbon dating. Data from the Takarkori sequence ultimately will be integrated with available published stratigraphies from the Acacus Mountains, with the aim of reviewing the results from past excavations.

Résumé

Les fouilles de l'abri sous roche de Takarkori, qui font partie d'une étude de longue haleine des dynamiques culturelles de l'Holocène dans le Tadrart Acacus et le Messak (Sud-Ouest de la Libye), débutèrent au début des années 1990. La zone, amplement étudiée durant les dernières décennies, est l'un des sites clé qui permettent de reconstituer la fréquentation humaine durant les dix mille dernières années. Dans cette région, comme dans le reste du Sahara, la plupart des données provient de fouilles en plein air, alors que les fouilles dans des grottes ou des abris sous roche sont peu nombreuses. Bien que moins exposés que les sites en plein air, les dépôts archéologiques de l'Holocène situés dans des grottes ou des abris sous roche au Sahara sont caractérisés par leur nature relativement dynamique. La présence de sédiments sableux et meubles, ajoutée à la variabilité de l'occupation humaine et à l'importance des agents naturels, sont à l'origine de nombreuses altérations des couches archéologiques. Dans cet article, nous décrirons la couche archéologique de l'abri sous roche de Takarkori, où une zone relativement importante a récemment été fouillée. Cela a mis à jour une séquence stratigraphique qui va de 9000 à 4200 BP environ, inégalement représentée par plusieurs occupations. Des procédures spécifiques d'analyse et d'enregistrement des dépôts archéologiques ont été développées, en même temps qu'un vaste programme de datation au radiocarbone, afin de mieux comprendre le développement de la fréquentation humaine de ce site. Pour finir, les données de la séquence de Takarkori seront mises en relation avec les stratigraphies publiées de Acacus Mts., dans l'objectif de réexaminer les résultats des fouilles précédentes.

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Acknowledgments

This research has been carried out under the aegis of the Italian-Libyan Archaeological Mission in the Acacus and Messak, Sapienza University of Rome, and Department of Archaeology, Tripoli, directed by Savino di Lernia. The excavation has been funded by several bodies: Sapienza University of Rome (Grandi Scavi), Minister of Foreign Affairs (DGPCC, DGSP), Minister of University and Research (Cofin, PRIN) entrusted to SDL. We wish to express our gratitude to the former directors of the Libyan Department of Archaeology, Ali Khaddouri and Giuma Anag. We are indebted to Saleh Agab, current head of the Libyan Department of Archaeology, and to Saad Saleh Abdul Aziz, director of the German Museum of Archaeology in the south, for their invaluable support. We thank Mauro Cremaschi, Anna Maria Mercuri, Andrea Zerboni, Linda Olmi, Emanuele Cancellieri, Marina Gallinaro, and the other Italian and Libyan members of the Takarkori Project for their outstanding support in the field and in the data processing. Finally, we are grateful to the three anonymous referees for insightful and useful comments that greatly improved the clarity and quality of the paper.

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Correspondence to Stefano Biagetti.

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Biagetti, S., di Lernia, S. Holocene Deposits of Saharan Rock Shelters: The Case of Takarkori and Other Sites from the Tadrart Acacus Mountains (Southwest Libya). Afr Archaeol Rev 30, 305–338 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10437-013-9138-z

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Keywords

  • Holocene
  • Sahara
  • Rock shelters
  • Archaeological sequence
  • Late Acacus
  • Pastoral Neolithic